Young Minds Conference, Lunch at Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant and a Visit to Westmead Hospital

June 17th 2013

Sydney, Australia, 17 June 2013 - A quick drive around the block took His Holiness the Dalai Lama from his hotel to the Sydney Town Hall this morning to attend a session of Young Minds, an exciting forum exploring issues facing youth today. The forum’s slogan, emblazoned on bright red and white banners throughout the venue read: warm heart, cool head, bright future. The theme of this morning’s discussion, before a capacity audience of more than 1200, was ‘How do we grow a good person?’

Once His Holiness and fellow panellists, Carla Rinaldi, Deborah Harcourt and Yassmin Abdel-Magied had taken their seats on the platform, Moderator, Simon Longstaff put the question to His Holiness - How do we grow a good person?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during the Young Minds Conference at the Sydney Town Hall in Sydney, Australia on June 17, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“The measure of being a good person seems to be whether or not you have peace of mind,” His Holiness replied, “Someone may be wealthy, successful, highly educated, in a position of leadership, but if they have no inner peace, they won’t be happy.

“An example is my mother, an illiterate peasant woman, who nevertheless was exceptionally warm-hearted. She dedicated herself to looking after her children, but she took care of others too. I remember a time of famine in China when starving Chinese made their way into North-eastern Tibet, where we lived and which was then under Chinese jurisdiction. On one occasion a couple turned up at our door begging for food and carrying the body of their dead child. My mother cried and assured them she would help them bury the child, but they told her they intended to eat it. She pleaded with them not to do so and gave them as much food as she could find. She was unflinchingly kind and we her children never saw her angry.”

Asked whether children come into the world with peace of mind or whether it is a later development, His Holiness said that children’s survival depends on their mother’s care, so a tremendous bond is forged between mother and child. In order to take care of others, we need to be able to show them affection. Even animals and birds engage in defensive strategies to protect their young, which is a biological response. It has nothing to do with religion or ethics.

“Our society has such a materialistic outlook that there is almost no room for affection, much as this water quenches my thirst, but does so with no display of affection. When we grow up we tend to neglect these positive values, which remain dormant while we pursue material development.”

His Holiness explained that there are two different kinds of competitiveness, a positive aspect that includes the wish to do well in your studies, while wishing that others do well too. The negative aspect is when we hope to do well, but aim to defeat others and bring them down.

Carla Rinaldi suggested that when we are young, we have the opportunity to be a good person if our community can support us growing that way. Deborah Harcourt agreed, commenting that ensuring we grow a good person depends on a partnership between parents, educators and the community. His Holiness added that it’s important that education remind us that inner values like love and compassion, patience and tolerance are crucial to living a happy life. Yassmin Abdel-Magied joined the discussion, recounting how she had grown up in a secular society, while her father retained his sense of duty to his religion. His Holiness expressed his admiration for such a sense of duty.

One hundred young people seated behind the panelists waiting to put questions to His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Young Minds Conference at the Sydney Town Hall in Sydney, Australia on June 17, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
At this point, 100 young people, some as young as 8, filed on to the platform to take their seats behind the panellists. They brought questions with them to ask His Holiness. The first wanted to know if a good Mum and Dad make a good child. He answered that naturally the more compassionate the parents, the more familiar a child become with compassion, whereas the child of parents who quarrel tends to become more distant. Presuming that the 14th Dalai Lama has been a young person 14 times, he was asked if he was an expert. He clarified that he has no memory of his past lives and anyway in Buddhist terms we have all been reborn over and again.

Another questioner asked if His Holiness thought world peace would ever be a reality. His answer was that it’s us who make war, who disrupt the peace. He reminded everyone of the 200 million said to have died in violence during the twentieth century, but added that logically if we are the ones who make war, we should also be able to put an end to it. He drew the young people’s attention to their truly belonging to the twenty-first century, encouraging them to take the opportunity to make this a century of peace in which conflict is resolved through dialogue rather than force.

A very young girl wanted to know his favourite book and after a moment’s thought he told her books on astronomy. An older girl then asked his views of those who abuse women and children in the name of religion. He told her that in today’s world education has brought more equality, but that education focussed on the brain is insufficient, what we also need is warm-heartedness, which gives rise to increased self-confidence. A young boy wanted His Holiness to tell him how he controls his temper.

“By thinking about it and asking myself if anger brings any benefit, I come to realise that anger is only destructive. It destroys our peace of mind and causes trouble. It also hampers our ability to function properly.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama enjoying a moment of laughter as he answers question during the Young Minds Conference at the Sydney Town Hall in Sydney, Australia on June 17, 2013. Photo/Rusty Stewart/DLIA 2013
A young boy who asked what His Holiness wanted to be reincarnated as was surprised when he replied:

“Perhaps after 20 years as your son! My favourite prayer - For as long as space endures, And for as long as sentient beings remain, Until then may I too remain, To dispel the miseries of the world - gives me great inner strength. One day you will hear that the Dalai Lama has passed away, but I will come back, even if the institution of Dalai Lama is no longer recognised. I will be back.”

In a final clarification for his fellow panellists, His Holiness said he feels secular ethics are important because they have a universal quality. Religious traditions have boundaries, Buddhism is for Buddhists and Islam is for Muslims, but secular ethics can apply to and be used for good by anyone.

From the Town Hall, His Holiness drove to Inner-West Sydney to visit his friend Rev Bill Crews and the Exodus Foundation at the Ashfield Parish Mission, which provides a support service for homeless and at-risk people. Rev Bill met His Holiness at the gate and escorted him first into the church, where he paid his respects and draped a white silk scarf around the crucifix on the simple altar. His Holiness insisted on joining the homeless and volunteers for lunch. An Aboriginal member of the church welcomed him saying, ‘We Aboriginal people have been dispossessed of our land too, but we welcome your message of happiness.’

After the first course, His Holiness and Rev Bill put on aprons and went round the tables together serving people with dessert. In his address Rev Bill said of His Holiness:

“He meets with leaders of the world and they promise support, but we know what it is like to have nowhere to go and to be alone. One day your country will be as free as we want to be. Wealthy, powerful China is afraid of this one man. What does he have? The power to transform.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama serving food at The Loaves and Fishes Free Restaurant where the Reverend Bill Crews' The Exodus Foundation provides meals to the at-risk and homeless in Sydney, Australia on June 17, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
He presented His Holiness with a framed drawing of the Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant with the words, “God bless you and God bless Tibet.” In his response, His Holiness said:

“My dear spiritual brother, we’ve known each other many years and today you wanted to show me your work, which I really appreciate. The words compassion and affection are easy to say and developing concern for others is also relatively easy to do, but you have put it into action, for years, not just in one place, but in many countries.

“Those of you who are homeless, don’t lose hope. In the short term you are homeless and I am too. But from a wider perspective the world is our home and other human beings are out brothers and sisters. People you may not have met before take care of you; this is the nature of the human spirit.

“I enjoyed your delicious food, thank you. I’m also happy to have been able to serve some of you dessert. In our Buddhist tradition it’s important to be able to offer alms to others with your own hands, so with your help I’ve earned some merit. Thank you. In return I’d like to make a donation to help keep up the good work here.”

His Holiness’s last call today was at the Westmead Hospital, where he was received by Dr Jeremy Chapman, Australia’s leading organ transplant surgeon. He escorted him to a small theatre where more than 340 medical professionals awaited them. Dr Chapman thanked him for taking the time to come and told him that his colleagues would value being able to put to him several moral questions that they would like help with.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama comforts a patient during his visit to Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Australia on June 17, 2013. Photo/Rusty Stewart/DLIA 2013
One of the questions concerned how to judge bad health behaviour in patients, such as smoking. His Holiness was clear that patients need to be educated to change. He said the medical advice can help people learn. Ultimately self-discipline is more effective than bringing outside pressure to bear; whatever changes in behaviour need to be made, it is important that they be voluntary. Referring to the huge gap that continues to loom between rich and poor in many places, he said that one of the most effective solutions is to restore poor people’s self-confidence.

Asked specifically for a Buddhist explanation of inequality in the world, His Holiness said the main cause was individuals’ previous actions or karma, but clarified that while karma is the main cause there are also auxiliary conditions. He also made clear that it is possible to overcome the effects of previous negative actions by performing strong positive actions now.

Another question concerned the 17-20 year disparity between average life expectancy among Australians and Aboriginal people and what can be done about it. Again His Holiness said the key is education. He suggested comparing the life expectancy of the early immigrants from Europe and Australians today. If there is a difference it can almost certainly be attributed to education.

He was taken to meet patients in the Organ Transplant Ward, several of whom were visibly uplifted by his presence. As he walked through the hospital the corridors were thronged with people: staff, patients and visitors eager to catch a glimpse of him or meet him face to face. He expressed his happiness at being able to make the visit and great admiration for the work being done to help patients in dire need which gives many of them a new lease of life.

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